Tag: graduate training

No Supply Without Demand: A Response to Stephen Walt

This is a guest post by Sarah Detzner, a Ph.D Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Her research is focused on international security, particularly post-conflict stabilization/reconstruction and security sector reform. In addition, she serves as Director of the Fletcher Graduate Writing Program, as a Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies and the Institute for Human Security, and as a consultant for the World Peace Foundation. Previously, she served in the Obama Administration as a speechwriter for former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, campaigned as an Obama 2008 staffer, and worked with the National Democratic Institute in Washington, Lebanon, and Jordan. She is a graduate of Macalester College and originally from the Chicago area.

In his indictment of the training that schools of international affairs offer their graduates, Stephen Walt has an advantage. He’s able to observe from a great height, over a long period, the migration patterns of herds of hopeful students trekking up and wintering a season or two in Boston before starting the return journey southward to the shores of the Potomac in search of warm weather and think tank gigs.

However, from that peak, it’s easy to miss the confusion, the mud, and the constant search for enough forage that day-by-day nudges along those who eventually make it to shore. From a different perspective, as third wildebeest from the back and slightly to the left, I say that the United States’ international affairs programs are churning out graduates with exactly the skills that the United States’ foreign policy establishment rewards, though certainly not those it actually needs. Continue reading

A Global Survey of IR Students – Might be Worth Pitching in your Classes

Daryl Morini, an IR PhD candidate at the University of Queensland whom I know, has put together an interesting global survey for undergraduate and graduate students of international relations. It looks pretty thorough and might make a pretty interesting student couter-point to TRIP. Eventually the goal is an article on our students’ attitudes toward the discipline; here is the full write-up of  the project at e-IR. So far as I know, nothing like this has been done before (please comment if that is incorrect), so this strikes me as the interesting sort of student work we should support. Daryl’s made an interesting effort to use Twitter as a simulation tool in IR, so I am happy to pitch this survey for him. Please take a look; Daryl may be contacted here.

Podcast No. 20: Interview with Phil Schrodt

Phil SchrodtThe twentieth Duck of Minerva podcast features Phil Schrodt of Pennsylvania State University. The interview includes Professor Schrodt’s views on a number of interesting topics, including the history of quantitative and computational conflict studies, his “seven deadly sins” project, advice for graduate students in political science, and an explanation of his decision to take up blogging.

This is the third podcast to only feature an mp3 version. I don’t get the sense that anyone is missing the m4a (“enhanced”) enhanced podcasts, but please correct me if I am mistaken on that point.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will always host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions when they are available–otherwise this feed will also host mp3 versions.

Continue reading

The tradeoffs of getting to graduate school in political science

This is the nerd equivalent of a dad joke.

A pair of posts today from political scientists I admire prompts me to postpone my musings on the Hunger Games and to talk about how to get to graduate school in political science again instead. In an effort to convince you to read on, I’ll name the authors of the two posts: Dan Drezner and Chris Blattman.

Dan Drezner writes about how a post-graduate (non-Ph.D.) degree can help you to get into the doctoral program of your dreams. I’m surprised, by the way, that Dan doesn’t address the burning issue of whether it’s a good idea to go directly from undergrad to grad school. Ten years ago, when I first began thinking about turning pro, the standard advice from my professors was to wait a year or two. They argued that a year or two of work experience helped you mature after the unstructured bliss of college, and furthermore that it was pretty easy to give up money and security in principle but that giving up those things after having had them represented a deeper, truer commitment to the academic vocation.

But Dan’s post is useful nonetheless, because he addresses the fact that many of us in grad school didn’t decide we wanted to do this until we were well on our way out of our undergrad institutions. Some of his advice is obvious–do well on your GREs, write a good personal statement, and so on–but some of it is not, such as whether it’s a good idea to get a terminal master’s before going to a Ph.D. program.

Yet I think Dan neglects one important point, which stands out all the more clearly when this post is read in conjunction with part one of his series. As political science becomes more scientistic, undergrad training in techniques (game theory, math, and so on) is ever more critical. In other words, if you’re a junior applying to graduate programs next year, it’s time to load up on stats and math right now–and if you’ve been out a few years, you might actually find that your preparation in computer science and other symbol-manipulation fields has been insufficient to prepare you to do cutting-edge research. But the converse of this professionalization, as Blattman notes, is that vast chunks of political science are being dismissed–and professors may find that their grad students can write R code in their sleep but can’t tell Tocqueville from Trotstky. Continue reading

Should I get a Ph.D.?

Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comic strip is required
by federal law to be posted in all grad student
lounges. There’s a reason for that.

By now, acceptance and rejection letters (or emails) have begun to filter back to graduate school applicants.

I want to offer some advice for people who want to be graduate students. I begin by making it clear: I’m loving graduate school; it’s been on balance the best time of my life; and nevertheless there have been times when (to quote a colleague) I’ve wished I’d taken the blue pill and kept my job. (Most of those times were during coursework.)

Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage has a useful post for students who have been accepted and are weighing competing offers. I agree with almost all of his points, and all of the major ones. You absolutely should choose a program, not a professor. You shouldn’t focus on irrelevancies during the search process. If the graduate students at admitted students’ weekend are miserable but the food is nice, then you shouldn’t go there. Similarly, if everybody at Prestig University is deeply into political economy and you’re big into critical theory, it’s a waste of your time and theirs to enroll there. And you should absolutely examine the methods training that a school offers. The more methods training, the better. And that means methods in a wider variety of subjects than you knew existed, unless you were an undergrad at one of the handful of universities that actually teach research skills to undergrads.

On the other hand, I disagree with Erik on his last point: “Think carefully about where you want to live. This is six years of your life!” I don’t think that most students should consider “where you want to live” as an important variable. The calculus is simple: Grad school is professional training; better training means you have a better chance of getting a job; and getting a job will contribute to your quality of life for decades. So go to Gloomy University instead of Sunshine U if Gloomy is higher ranked. (True, if you’re a superstar and you get to choose among top-ranked programs, then you can let this back in, but otherwise your decision rule should be easy: go to the best program for you that gave you funding.)


The other point is that Erik is right that grad school will probably take six years. This matters a lot if your program only offers five-year funding commitments (as mine does). So, plan accordingly. You should also realize that this means that at least one Major Life Event–marriage, childbirth, death of a close family member–will take place during this period, which is a sobering realization.

But let me offer a few additional pieces of advice. First, if you’re still thinking about accepting any grad school offers at all–or you’re thinking about applying next year–you should read Tim Burke’s Should I Go To Graduate School? and More on Going to Graduate School.

Second, you should think really hard about money. I’m going to repeat something that Tim wrote: “With rare exceptions, no Ph.D. program that is primarily or exclusively aimed at an academic career is worth pursuing if the applicant is not given a tuition waver upon admission.” Taking out loans for a Ph.D. program is a dicey proposition. Those loans are nondischargeable in bankruptcy, which means that although the federal government would have helped you make your debts disappear if you’d spent $100k buying clothes on your MasterCard, they will never release you from your obligations to pay back the $5,000 in tuition for that extra seminar on The Politics of Exotic Birds, even if you’re adjuncting for the rest of your life. (A corollary to “think hard about money” is “think hard about what the job market for academics is like.”)

This is more important than you think now. If you’re 23 or 24, then the notion of “home equity” or “retirement savings” are pretty distant from what you’re doing. But when you arrive at 29 or 30 and all you have to show for years of effort are a few lines on a CV while all of your friends who got jobs (you know, maybe the ones whose homework you used to do, or the ones who learned keg stands while you learned econometrics) are living in really nice places in really fun cities and unselfconsciously talking about their vacations in countries that you only know from datasets … well, all I can say is that, you’ll notice then. After a point, genteel poverty is still poverty.

Third, you should think really hard about what makes you happy. Do you only want to be a professor if you can be a hip prof in New York or the Bay Area? Then don’t go to graduate school. You are statistically almost certain not to get that job. So unless you’ve come to the conclusion that you’d be just as satisfied working for years to take what your mentors will refer to as a “Good Job” in a state that voted for Santorum instead of getting the Best Job in the discipline, then you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure.

Fourth, if you’ve been admitted, you almost certainly have the raw talent necessary to play the game. You’re likely to be deeply depressed at some point in your first semester, though, because it will seem as if everyone in your program knows more about everything than you did. That’s extremely unlikely to be true, but it will nevertheless feel that way. So make friends quickly. The best advice I ever got about grad school was on the first day, when a senior Ph.D. student informed our entering cohort that nobody can write a dissertation on their own. So be friendly, be nice, be charitable, and be generous. The dividends are well worth it.

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